I’m perpetually on the hunt.
Soul food is hard to come by in Austin, Texas. Yes, there are a handful of joints scattered around town, but I miss the profundity of cities like Birmingham, Jackson and New Orleans. It’s one of the factors that separates Texas from The South: the culture of collards, fried catfish and black eye peas.
One of the writers over on Scrumptious Chef alerted me to a brand new soul food joint that recently opened, way out 12 street in East Austin. And by way out, I mean right where east 12 nearly comes to a grinding halt at Springdale Road.
East 12th Kafe is conspicuously modern and tidy. I remember it from the 90s when it was Sallie’s, a fried chicken joint that me and my crew would trek out to for green Kool Ade, homemade pie and of course fried chicken.
Since Sallie’s departure, a raft of restaurants have come and gone from the little building; each one indistinguishable from the previous.
East 12 Kafe is not suffering from this sort of identity crisis; they’re putting out some of the finest soul food in Austin right now.
I order a catfish platter and set back to take in the scene from my bar perch that looks out a giant picture window onto 12 street. It’s lovely. The hubbub of the neighborhood is in full swing with workers filing in for lunchtime chow, cops with engines screaming down the avenue to corral in the thugs, and a happy chatter amongst the staff and patrons colliding off the walls.
The kitchen is swamped with business. Once my waitress has determined I’ve been sitting too long without the food I’d ordered she brings me a lagniappe of 2 hefty, perfectly cooked, fried chicken wings. I could not be happier. The wing is my favorite cut, and these stand among the finest in Austin. I go into wool-gathering mode and start recollecting the old days of Gene’s New Orleans when a 6 wing plate with fries and garlic bread was THREE DOLLARS.
Amidst my reverie, my waitress Coretha appears with a mammoth fried catfish platter replete with black eye peas, collards and corn bread. The young Coretha and her sister Tonia whip around the front of the house serving the big crowd while mama Susie Clark mans the range and fryers in the back.
Mrs Clark’s skills are estimable. The catfish is fried crunchy with a mildly seasoned corn meal dredge; the collards have a pleasing bite, and have not been cooked into mush which is often a problem of soul food cooks, and the black eye peas are scratch cooking at its finest-they never came near a can.
East 12th Kafe is tiny. The restaurant seats 26 people inside with room for 4 more on the sidewalk out front. It’s packed. Road construction crews, secretaries, housewives, cops and one couple on a Valentine date are all collar and elbow in the little room. As the dating pair approach the register, the clerk asks if the check is together or separate, the man replies separate til the look of death is beamed down up on him. He immediately mans up and foots the bill before his lady friend drags him out front and puts the spike heels to his ass.
Intelligentsia coffee is on the menu for the Saturday breakfast feast of grits, waffles, fried eggs and biscuits. East Austin’s growing steadily less recognizable day by day.The collision of craft coffee and slow food from the kitchen of an old school southern chef is something we never saw coming.
4140 e.12th st